Subterranean restaurants can be problematic, with low ceilings and windowless walls lending a claustrophobic, airless feel. Artlessly done, they can evoke the unfortunate whiff of the frat-house basement or the cheesy suburban rec room. Park Restaurant & Bar manages to overcome the drawbacks of its underground space via clever decorating. Its rambling collection of rooms ranges from a lively bar area resembling a plush early-20th-century saloon, to a lounge furnished with upholstered armchairs, to smaller dining rooms with leather banquettes, a fireplace, and eclectic accents ranging from chalkboards to antique books to '60s-vintage artwork and photos. With attractively dim lighting throughout and a raucous noise level, the space feels like a busy, inviting, genteel tavern, neither cramped nor gloomy.
Specialty cocktails run to the complex and crafty, like the Defender ($10), a mahogany-toned mix of Old Tom gin, Antica Formula sweet vermouth, Crème Yvette, and orange bitters that yields a lovely blend of dry, sweet, floral, and herbal notes. The geek-worthy beer list includes 14 drafts ($5–$9), nine of-the-moment canned beers ($5–$8), 16 bottles ($4–$12), another 11 large-format bottles ($12–$22), and a cask offering. And the comfortably priced wine list includes a couple dozen options by the glass ($7–$12), most also available as bottles ($26–$44), like a 2011 Albet i Noya Xarel-lo ($34), a white from Catalonia's Penedès region with a bracing minerality and a sweet lime aroma.
Chef Mark Goldberg's menu attractively blends old-timey kitchen craft — reflecting a love of things pickled, cured, and smoked in-house — with abundant, uncluttered American bistro plates. The meal begins with complimentary, saucer-sized house-made wheat crackers, which provide a golden base for cheddar/crème fraîche spread drizzled with a port reduction. Shareable plates include a tasting of toast ($10) — three pairs of toasted baguette rounds topped with sliced radishes and salted butter, apple butter and cheddar, and shrimp, avocado, and smoked paprika — and the bacon three-way ($12), another six quick bites, two each of bacon-topped grilled littlenecks, little sourdough pancakes topped with pickled cranberries and bacon, and spoons holding bite-sized warm salads of Brussels sprout leaves and crisped pancetta.
Eaters with gentler appetites might favor seafood entrees like pan-seared Scottish salmon ($21), two fine small steaks prettily flanked on a rectangular plate by grilled avocado on one side and a salad with citrus fruit segments on the other, or a monkfish "osso bucco" ($23) served in rounds that indeed resemble slices of veal shank atop cubes of roasted pumpkin and wilted baby spinach. Heartier eaters might consider hefty plates like the grilled pork chop ($18) served over garlicky greens and topped with a chunky pear mostarda, or the massive, gorgeous slow-roasted brisket, a daunting slab of beef with a beautifully tender texture, served with caramelized root vegetables and a cunning iron crock of white-bean cassoulet with goodly bits of pork sausage. This is the kind of delectable, staggering animal-fat bomb that might have you skipping breakfast and lunch the next day, or at least reaching for a Fernet-Branca afterward.